As global demand for sustainable packaging ramps up, so does the search for viable materials that can conceivably put an end to the environmental damage caused by the global packaging industry.
But perhaps an underrated sustainable packaging option are materials derived from eggshell.
Spark Sourcing, a distributor of sustainable packaging solutions, has patented a bio-calcium taken from eggshells called eco-shell. It is the result of a 7-step process involving calcination that converts the eggshells into a powder that is pelletised and then used as a filler for plastics.
The material reportedly offers a 70% reduction in carbon emissions compared to virgin plastics and can be used in a wide range of industries and packaging types.
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Packaging Gateway spoke to Spark Sourcing’s founder Andrew Bliss about eco-shell and its advantages over other materials.
Where did the idea of using eggshells for packaging come from?
We developed bio-calcium derived from eggshell in response to limitations we encountered working with oyster shells for packaging. While the latter produced bio-calcium with many of the same benefits that eco-shell has over traditional calcium carbonate, there were problems with scale-ability and supply. In addition, it was difficult to find a standard quality and maintain a clean product, as we couldn’t control the toxins or radiation that oyster shells had been exposed to. Finally, the bio-calcium from oyster shells was still quite hard like that derived from limestone and could still harm machinery.
Switching to eggshell solved all these problems: We could scale up as needed, it came from a controlled and monitored source allowing us to guarantee quality, and the bio-calcium from eggshell produced smaller and softer particles, making it safe for machinery.
What advantages do eggshells have as a packaging material over bioplastics?
There are a lot of exciting things about bioplastics… in theory. In reality, they cannot be recycled and must be sorted out from recyclable plastics by consumers, which is not easy and time consuming. The consumer should then place them in a specific environment where these plastics can compost, one that most contains the right amounts of water, oxygen, nitrates, and microorganisms.
As a result, the vast majority of bioplastics just get tossed and end up in a landfill, where those conditions are not met and the plastic will not biodegrade. With the amount of energy needed to create the bioplastics and the unfortunate end of life, there is no carbon reduction and an increase in plastic waste. On top of that, it is quite expensive compared to virgin plastics and eco-shell.
Eco-shell focuses on a circular economy for plastics, adhering to the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Being sourced from sustainable agricultural waste and with a clean production method, eco-shell does not require much energy to be made.
When used as a filler, eco-shell can reduce 25-50% of plastic off the top, depending on the plastic it is used with and the application. Compared to virgin plastic, there is an average carbon reduction of 60-70% with eco-shell. If eco-shell is used with recycled or ocean bound plastic, the overall carbon reduction is even greater. The end of life of eco-shell is also impressive. It is 100% recyclable, and even if it ends up being incinerated, it does not release any carbon – just a harmless residue in the incinerator.
The eco-shell product is said to reduce plastic content by up to 50% – what will it take for it to completely replace plastic?
Since it is a filler, there will be a limit to the percentage of plastic it can replace. Our goal is to replace 100% of virgin plastic, which we can do. Eco-shell is compatible with recycled and ocean bound plastics, and its end products are themselves recyclable. Using eco-shell with PCR or OCB, we have added zero new plastic to the economy and have created zero new waste.
We are also not anti-plastic. There are many amazing benefits to working and living with plastic. Our focus is to mitigate the harm while maintaining the benefits.
How difficult is it to rise above the misinformation surrounding sustainability in packaging?
Greenwashing can be very frustrating! I see websites every day touting their bio-degradable plastics or eco-friendly solutions that in reality do not reduce carbon or plastic, and in some cases may even be worse for the environment.
For example, there are some products that use fibers to reduce plastic and claim eco-friendliness. However, once you add that (maybe just 10%) the product is not recyclable and cannot biodegrade, so it either gets incinerated or winds up in a landfill, both of which are bad for the environment.
Other products claim degradability through using additives to virgin plastic that will allow it to biodegrade. They may have the proper certification, but that can be obtained for a little as 5-10% degradation in 90 days. If this slow-degrading material (that cannot be recycled) goes to a composting facility with fast degrading material, it will cause a lot of trouble. So, if it is not composted perfectly at home by consumers, it will end up in the landfill (where compost conditions are not met) or incinerated where it will release more carbon.
On top of the greenwashing, we also have to fight against counterfeit products. For example, there is oyster shell bio-calcium on the market currently that has many of the same qualities of eco-shell and is priced comparatively. There is some, however, that is priced just a smidge over limestone calcium carbonate, which is dirt cheap, and they claim to have bio C-14 content. This material seems to be too good to be true. To turn the brown/grey oyster shell into a fine white powder with small enough particles to be used, it needs to undergo an expensive grinding procedure. The cheapest grinding shops in China alone would be more expensive than their market price.
While eco-shell and oyster shell bio-calcium are from a bio source, it cannot be measured by current tests. The only plant life from an oyster shell would be seaweed or algae, but that would get burned off during production. If an oyster shell bio-calcium claims to have bio markers (and sell it for the price of mined limestone) we just don’t see how that is possible.
The best thing we can do to combat this is to be very transparent with our certifications, patents, and test results. We also hope to change focus in the industry to end of life of plastics, which is where eco-shell can shine.